As school commences and kids enjoy the organized chaos on the playground at recess, you’re probably not alone in thinking, “What about my kids playing with kids who don’t share the values we’re teaching them at home?” I’ll never forget my firstborn, a kindergartener, asking after school about the word she’d heard at recess — starting with an “f” and ending with a “k.” I reminded myself what I brazenly told friends about my parenting approach: I strive to equip, not shelter my kids. Yet it’s a real tension, to raise kids in today’s messy world without the added pressure of them engaging on the playground daily with kids who come from very different home environments, some which may hold directly opposing world views.
I approached syndicated columnist Lori Borgman, national speaker, author of “I Was A Better Mother Before I Had Kids” and most importantly, she says, proud grandmother of 11 grandkids, to address this concern.
Why should I put my kids in a play environment where their values may be confronted?
Borgman: The ability to smoothly navigate difficult situations is a sign of maturity. Such
maturity is built on communication skills, confidence, grace and, yes, experience. Our young people need exposure to the sharp edges of life. What better time to get exposure to and experience worldviews different from our own than under the watchful eyes of caring parents?
But I’d like to protect my child from negative influences. How can I justify them playing with kids whose speech is laced with swear words or who may blatantly cheat in games?
Borgman: As parents, we often undervalue the benefits of conflict. Our instinct is to be in protection mode 24/7, always ready to put on our helmets and shoulder pads and run defense for our kids. But the truth is, there is value in the struggle.
Dr. Paul Tough, author of an excellent book titled “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” unpacks a growing concern over young people’s inability to cope with difficulties. Tough writes, “American children, especially those who grow up in relative comfort, are, more than ever, shielded from failure as they grow up. If this new research is right, their schools, their families and their culture may all be doing them a disservice by not giving them more opportunities to struggle.”
Tough contends that what matters most in children’s development is not how much information we can stuff into their brains, but whether we are able to help them develop a very different set of qualities, such as persistence, self-control, curiosity and self-confidence.
How do I use these playground encounters as teaching moments?
Borgman: Perhaps the greatest benefit of young people experiencing conflict, adversity and a clash of worldviews under a parent’s watchful eye is the discussion that follows. How did you handle that situation and would you handle it differently next time?
And you can be sure there will be a next time: on the ballfield, in the neighborhood, with a new group of friends or even in your extended family. Each encounter is an opportunity to discuss when to say something and when to hold your tongue, how to offer an opposing opinion, the value of asking questions over making statements, how to diffuse another person’s anger and when you should simply find the nearest exit and run.
Interacting with those with different worldviews and worldviews hostile to our own is inevitable. Practice may not make for perfect, but it can make for a well-adjusted young person.
I don’t expect perfect kids, but well-adjusted sits well with me as it probably does you. That’s what I’m hoping will come of all this practice my kids—and likely yours—are going through on the playground.
Kathryn Streeter is a Washington, D.C.-based mom and blogger.